PARIS, France — In a fascinating interview with The Taipei Times, Didier Grumbach, President of the Fédération Française de la Couture, du Prêt à Porter des Couturiers et des Créateurs de Mode (sometimes known as the Chambre Syndicale), provides his point of view on the role of haute couture in the fashion business today, encourages young designers to manufacture in China, and welcomes luxury conglomerates like LVMH and PPR as a necessary part of the fashion eco-system.
On Haute Couture, he tells it like it is. "Couture is in fact not an industry, it is a savoir faire, a craft, and is a complement to ready-to-wear," he tells the Times' Catherine Shu. "When haute couture was organized and structured the way it was in 1944, there was no ready-to-wear as we know it today. Everything was made for you. Creative ready-to-wear did not exist. Today Chanel and Dior, the most mythical couture houses, are also at the same time among the biggest exporters of ready-to-wear, and without their ready-to-wear lines, their couture lines could not exist."
However, he says, without the creativity and craft of haute couture, the ready-to-wear lines would be without a soul. "The brands that we all know were founded by artists who expressed themselves on the body rather than on a canvas ... In the end, fashion is an industry and the designer has to compromise, but during a certain period of the designer’s life, it is art, it must be art, if not, there is nothing and a brand cannot last."
Grumbach is also pragmatic about fashion as a rapidly-evolving business, one which will require a shift in long-standing industry mindsets, particularly in Europe. "That is why we encourage designers, and especially the new generation of designers, to manufacture in China, and most of them do in the same way that their predecessors gave assignments to Italian factories," he explains. "The world is opening up today, especially with the Internet. You can sketch a design in Paris and produce [it] in Shanghai or in Taipei."
And finally, he acknowledges the important role that luxury behemoths like PPR and LVMH play in helping to nurture young brands and foster healthy industry competition and creativity.
"You always have financial groups funding new brands, which is valuable. It is very difficult for new brands to cohabit with venerable design houses. When Christian Dior and Pierre Balmain opened their couture houses in the 1940s, the House of Worth and the House of Paquin were still operating nearby," says Grumbach. "There is always competition between new brands with new blood and brands which are already in their third or fourth generation, it’s part of French fashion tradition."